Wednesday, July 22, 2015

1819 Rhyming Geography of the United States

Clark, Victorianus. A Rhyming Geography; Or, a Poetical Description of the United States of America, &c. Hartford: Printed by Peter B. Gleason & Co., 1819.

Sometimes I cannot stop myself from buying a book I know nothing about, just because it seems interesting. Victorianus Clark's Rhyming Geography is one example of that: for what could have possessed someone to put a Geography textbook into rhyming form? How could I not buy it?

From the description of Indiana.
Clark tells us that he has taken the organization, and most of the facts, from Morse's Universal Geography, a standard textbook on the topic. The rhymes, he argues are truly to be memorized by school students, as an aid to their ability to learn the geographical facts, although "No scholar should commit more than eight rhymes in one day" (6).  Sound advice, I should think. Whether the anti-French sentiment betrayed be descriptions of town such as Vincennes, Indiana is Clark's or Morse's I haven't determined, but one can hardly not laugh today to read that

  Vincennes, now the largest town,
  Is fifty leagues up Wabash found:
  *Tho' seat of government, this place,
  *Is peopled by a mongrel race,
  *Of French extraction, mean and base (78)

The lines prefixed by asterisks, the Preface tells us, "are not to be committed to memory" (7).

The descriptions of Ohio, Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania especially caught my eye, as these are places I know fairly well: coal and oil both are prominently mentioned, and those resources continue to dominate our understanding of this region nearly two hundred years later, now.

The Rhyming Geography appears to be somewhat scarce, if not rare: but what a remarkable document of pedagogical thinking, from this early moment in American education.

No comments:

Post a Comment